The value of forests - more information

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Forest protection – father of the sustainability concept

They are the habitat for the largest proportion of land animal and plant species, they supply building material, food, clean water, medicinal plants and play a central role in the local and global climate. All these functions are also described as ecosystem services. Therefore forest protection is indispensable to solving the climate crisis, maintaining biodiversity and guaranteeing the sustainable existence of humanity.
Forests and sustainability are in close interdependence with each other. Today’s extensively understood concept of sustainability originally comes from forestry. It was developed in 18th century Germany to revitalize the largely clear-felled forests and to manage them long term – or sustainably. The core thinking of sustainable forestry was and is to use the forest ecosystem in such a way that all its essential functions are retained, that only quantities of wood are taken which can naturally grow back and that the ecological structure is not destroyed. In this way forests will be retained as an area for living and for nature as well as an economic factor for following generations. 

No climate protection without forest protection

Because forests stabilise the global climate, they work like a giant, worldwide air conditioning system. They do this by converting solar energy into water condensation, cooling the atmosphere, and they are responsible for precipitation in the regions to the north and south of the equator. Therefore, forests are a guarantee for rain and hydrological cycles - worldwide. Thus they make life possible. Directly and indirectly they supply cities, agriculture and industry with water. They safeguard the existence of humanity. The destruction of forests threatens this foundation for life. Forests also act as giant carbon stores. They hold about half of all the carbon combined on Earth.  If forests are burned a large part of this stored carbon is released as carbon dioxide (CO2). Deforestation is responsible for around 17 percent of worldwide GHG-emissions. The deforestation in tropical regions of Latin America, Asia and Central Africa is particularly serious. Therefore the fight against climate change cannot be won without preserving the tropical forests. 

Stop the chain reaction

Every creature, every plant is dependent on the existence of other life, other plants and they are thus linked in a unique manner. The extinction of one species has a negative chain reaction on other species. Humans are also an integral component of this system. They lose out if the forest is destroyed. If the forests are destroyed as an ecosystem by clear felling and only “rain forest islands” remain, the complex combinations and biocoenosis will collapse, species will die out and valuable biological variety will be lost – irreplaceably and forever. However, loss of species is also a loss for the economy and for society. Many plants are already used for health, medicine and other purposes today. The benefits of many other plants and organisms have not yet been discovered by a long way.  Not only students of bionics are convinced that they hold the key for solving some of our problems. Therefore they have to be preserved. There is yet another and perhaps even more important reason to retain the wealth of species. Loss of species accelerates poverty. One and a half billion people, who are dependent on intact forests and their products for making a living, would lose their livelihoods through forest destruction. 

More than wood and cropland

Wood is the oldest building material and oldest fuel used by people. Forests were cleared to acquire farmland and to build towns and villages. Thus in Europe and North America most of the forests were lost. In Latin America, Africa and Asia, catching up with modernisation and the hunger of industrial countries for agricultural products are now ensuring the clear cut of tropical forests. Many tropical countries are now facing a challenge similar to that in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Then, the exploitation of the forests only ended when wood became scarce, and the paradigm change to sustainable forestry was established.  But neither Brazil nor Indonesia can afford to wait today until their forests have been cleared – the consequences for the climate, environment, economy and society would be fatal. But these countries, unlike Europe in the past, are subject to far more complex interactions when dealing with their forests: worldwide demand for wood, beef, soya, energy plants, palm oil and minerals, the development of domestic infrastructure, ongoing poverty and underdevelopment. It is a difficult balancing act: Managing forests in tropical countries so that they continue to serve as valuable suppliers of raw materials, so that they retain their ecological functions and simultaneously open the way for development. Because the forests there directly safeguard the livelihoods of around 1.6 billion people. The decline of forest ecosystems is an important reason for the ongoing poverty of the rural population in developing countries. Their livelihoods can only be retained by managing forests sustainably. 

Nature does not need us. But we need nature.

Forests supply people with numerous so-called "ecosystem services": precipitation, erosion and soil protection, temperature buffers. Thus, forests are irreplaceable for local and global hydrological cycles, for example. They store water and release it slowly. They act as large water filters and save the expensive treatment of drinking water. Locally they moderate temperature fluctuations, increase air humidity and slow down storms.  In mountain regions forests serve as natural protection against avalanches. In addition, tree canopies protect the sensitive humus layer on the ground against rain. These ecosystem services provide a value of several trillion Euros annually. This value has previously not been calculated in conventional economic evaluations or has been assumed to be taken for granted. For this reason it is often more profitable for people to clear forests and use them as cultivated land for agricultural products, for example, than to safeguard their existence. The largest part of deforestation can be traced back to such misguided incentives. Compensation payments for forest protection are a first, important step in correcting such misguided incentives and building up a future system for ecosystem services. They are a signal that companies are prepared to invest in protecting the Earth's natural capital. We believe that natural capital has the potential to be a good and long term investment that safeguards the fundamentals of existence and promises sustainable economic benefits well into the future.

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  • © Forest Carbon Group 2017